Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kel (1959 - 2010)

Many of you will have noticed the absence of posts on the Osterley Times. It is with regret that I have to tell you that Kel, the man behind the Osterley Times, died suddenly on 28 October 2010.

Kel was many things. A Labour man. A working-class hero. A socialist. All labels that could be applied to him, yet none that defined him. Kel's loyalty to the Labour party, or rather what the Labour party had stood for, did not preclude him from critiquing the failures of Tony Blair and others in New Labour. His socialism was not romantic, but pragmatic. He argued for equality and fairness for all, and pointed out where socialist experiments of the past had failed to deliver these very things. A modest man, he was proud of his working-class roots, but I think would have been embarrassed to wear the epithet of hero. He was just a boy from Cranhill who had made it, and he wished to see a world where his successes and expectations could be the norm, not the exception.

Kel had a biting wit and could cut down the mighty with a pithy rejoinder, amply demonstrated across years of blogging. I was perpetually amazed that by the time I had eaten breakfast, Kel could produce three or four compelling blog posts, fully researched, and often updated. He was incredibly aware of what was happening in politics globally, one minute talking about the Middle East peace process, the next keeping an eye on the progress of legislation through the American Congress, before returning to the UK to examine corruption in Parliament.

No political topic escaped his understanding, and nobody was above criticism.

Although a man of the left, Kel was inherently fair-minded. As scathing as he was when he felt people were plainly wrong, he was as quick to praise when he saw people doing right, even if politically they were on the other side of the spectrum from him.

In the month since his passing we have seen direct action on the streets of Britain by students, campaigning against the increase in tuition fees. The US mid-term elections have finished, and President Obama faces the run up to re-election with a Congress no longer fully controlled by Democrats. Wikileaks has taken on the might of the US Government, its founder Julian Assange is facing deportation to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault, and the US have indicated they want him extradited to America.

All these topics were the bread and butter of the Osterley Times, and I feel strangely out of touch with them now. I feel behind the times, as many news stories were brought to my attention, not by the mainstream media, but by Kel.

We who knew him will miss his compassion, his strong desire to see the right thing done, his warmth and humour, and above all his humanity. All these things were Kel, and all these things shone through on this website.

I can think of no better tribute to his memory than this site, where his words speak for him far better than I can.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

RNC Chair Steele Claims That Republicans Tried to Cooperate With President Obama.

Michael Steele makes the pathetic claim that the Republicans - The Party of No - did not attempt to obstruct the Obama administration, and that they really, really, wanted to co-operate with the regime.

Is there anyone, anywhere, dumb enough to swallow that argument?

Yeah, sure Micheal. That's why the GOP decided they liked the health care bill when it was Bob Dole's idea, or something akin to Romney-care, but once a Democrat put it out there for a vote, suddenly it was "Socialism" and the Republicans all voted against it. Spare me.
They have spent the last two years obstructing Obama at every turn. To attempt to argue the opposite now is simply pathetic.

Beck: "I'm not telling you who to vote for" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

Beck has claimed that he will never endorse any candidate.

On November 30, 2009, Beck claimed: "I just gave an interview just the other day, where people said 'so you're going to be endorsing candidates?' I said not over -- not on -- over my dead body will I be endorsing candidates." Since then, Beck has claimed: "I don't ever endorse anybody. Nor do I want to. I'll tell you what I think about individuals, but I don't endorse them. I don't lend my credibility to anybody. I struggle to keep my credibility with myself."

Beck: "I don't want to tell who to vote for." From the September 20 edition of his Fox News show (emphasis added):

BECK: Well, what's the solution? Well, the immediate thing you can do is vote. You are the last line of defense -- and our founders knew. Our founders that, in the end, our branches of government would fail and the last line of defense would be you.

But here's the problem. Our turn-out is pathetic. Now, I don't want to tell who to vote for. I don't even know the candidates. Sean covers the candidates. I don't.

Listen to the above recording and ask yourself if you can divine any hint of who Beck would like you to vote for.

He is clearly pushing candidates like Christine O'Donnell. It's beyond doubt who he wants you to vote for.

For this man to claim that he will not endorse any candidate is simply a joke.

Humiliate, strip, threaten: UK military interrogation manuals discovered.

We learned yesterday of the US ignoring Iraqis torturing Iraqis, and today The Guardian have managed to unearth British army training methods which appear to be in direct breach of the Geneva Conventions.

Training materials drawn up secretly in recent years tell interrogators they should aim to provoke humiliation, insecurity, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear in the prisoners they are questioning, and suggest ways in which this can be achieved.

One PowerPoint training aid created in September 2005 tells trainee military interrogators that prisoners should be stripped before they are questioned. "Get them naked," it says. "Keep them naked if they do not follow commands." Another manual prepared around the same time advises the use of blindfolds to put prisoners under pressure.

A manual prepared in April 2008 suggests that "Cpers" – captured personnel – be kept in conditions of physical discomfort and intimidated. Sensory deprivation is lawful, it adds, if there are "valid operational reasons". It also urges enforced nakedness.

The images which emerged from Abu Ghraib were supposed to be the work of a few American bad apples, but it is becoming increasingly clear that both the American and the British interrogation methods had been changed and that nakedness and humiliation had become part and parcel of the way in which both country's interrogators chose to elicit the maximum information.

More recent training material says blindfolds, earmuffs and plastic handcuffs are essential equipment for military interrogators, and says that while prisoners should be allowed to sleep or rest for eight hours in each 24, they need be permitted only four hours unbroken sleep. It also suggests that interrogators tell prisoners they will be held incommunicado unless they answer questions.

These are clear breaches of the Geneva Conventions which state that no "physical or moral coercion" is permissible.

I used to believe that this was simply an American problem, but the Guardian's discovery of this British training manual must lead one to conclude that this became official coalition policy during the War on Terror.

Next month, at the high court in London, lawyers representing more than 100 Iraqis who were held and interrogated by British forces, between the March 2003 invasion and April 2007, will argue that there is compelling evidence that they were tortured in a systematic manner.

The abuse, documented by a team of lawyers led by a Birmingham solicitor, Phil Shiner, includes 59 allegations of detainees being hooded, 11 of electric shocks, 122 of sound deprivation through the use of earmuffs, 52 of sleep deprivation, 131 of sight deprivation using blackened goggles, 39 of enforced nakedness and 18 allegations that detainees were kept awake by pornographic DVDs played on laptops.

At a preliminary hearing, a high court judge said it appeared to be accepted by the MoD that there were "arguable cases of ill-treatment" and added: "It appears also to be accepted that there is an arguable case of something systemic."

I, long ago, came to the conclusion that American use of torture was systemic, simply based on the fact that what was happening (everywhere where torture was alleged) all followed a familiar pattern: enforced nakedness, use of noise and light to produce sleep deprivation, and a myriad of other things, were almost always without aberration. One never heard of nails being pulled out, of eyes gouged. It really was as if they were following a textbook.

The Guardian today reveal the British version of that textbook.

Someone, somewhere, gave permission for this. Someone authorised it.

They ought to be prosecuted. They are criminals.

Click here for full article.

Monday, October 25, 2010

David Brooks Downplays Influence of Anonymous Campaign Contributions.

David Brooks is going to great lengths to say that anonymous financing is not a big deal.

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s tremendously corrupting in Washington. The question is does it affect the electorate? And I guess-- does it affect voters? A couple things. First, it’s important to remember the outside money is only ten percent of the total money. Most can-- most money is still candidate driven and it’s-- party driven. The second thing is the money is flowing in on both sides. Ask me, the public sector worker, $87 million. The NEA, $40 million. So, there’s a ton of money.

DAVID GREGORY: But you do know where they’re coming from?

DAVID BROOKS: Right. That’s-- that’s exactly right. The untransparent money is a genuine problem. But then this third thing, the final thing is does it affect voters? We’ve got $3.5 billion being spent on this election. Some of these outside funds like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, they’re spending $12 million. Do we really think that’s affecting? And then if you’ve got a race like in Colorado, where the Democrat and the Republican are each throwing 5,000 ads at each other. Do we really think if one candidate throws 7,000 as opposed to 5,000 it’s gonna make a big difference?
Erm, yes! Is he seriously arguing that these ads make no difference to the outcome of the election? If that was really the case then why would either party waste so much money advertising?

It does make a difference. And, I suspect, Brooks is making this very bad and ill thought out argument because he really doesn't want anyone spending too much time asking who is behind these adverts.

Huckabee blasts Rove, 'elitist' GOP establishment.

It really does seem as if the Tea Party movement could tear the Republican Party apart.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee today broadened the assault on the Republican Party establishment — and former Bush adviser Karl Rove in particular — levied recently by Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, blasting the "elitism" and "country club attitude exhibited by Rove and others who dismissed Delaware Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell.

"I was very disappointed in some, particularly Karl and others, who were so dismissive of Christine O'Donnell," Huckabee told Aaron Klein on the latter's WABC radio show Sunday.
"Unfortunately, there is an elitism within the Republican establishment," Huckabee told Klein. "And it's one of the reasons the Republicans have not been able to solidify not only the tea party movement but solidify conservatives across America."

"It's about, again, to be blunt, the kind of country club attitude that we're not sure there are certain people we really want as members of the club and we're not going to vote them in. And we don't mind showing up to events to put up signs and making phone calls and going door to door making those pesky little trips that we don't like to do, but we really don't want them dining with us in the main dining room," he said.
And there's a delicious irony in seeing the Republican Party being accused of the kind of elitism which they usually love to level at the Democrats.

The Republican Party use the term elitist as a way of avoiding discussion of just how barren their ideas are. It's a curious form of anti-intellectualism which allows George W. Bush to run for the presidency and makes it, somehow, bad form to question his lack of intellectual curiosity.

Some in that party are now turning the charge on each other.

Of course, the Republicans are right to question the suitability of Christine O'Donnell to stand as their party's representative. But - and the irony here is dripping in huge drops - they should have expected that someone like Huckabee might take the lessons learned at their own knee and accuse them of the very crimes which they are so fond of accusing others of when they question whether or not a candidate is suitable for high office.

Those people living in glass houses are now watching their own side throw stones at them. It really couldn't happen to more deserving people.

Click here for full article.

Iraq war logs: US turned over captives to Iraqi torture squads.

Until now, we had thought that the recent Wikileaks revelations had told us that the US ignored evidence of Iraqis torturing Iraqis, but it seems it was rather worse than that.

It now transpires that US forces handed over detainees to Iraqi units which they knew would torture them.

The 400,000 field reports published by the whistleblowing website at the weekend contain an official account of deliberate threats by a military interrogator to turn his captive over to the Iraqi "Wolf Brigade".

The interrogator told the prisoner in explicit terms that: "He would be subject to all the pain and agony that the Wolf battalion is known to exact upon its detainees."

It was bad enough when the charges were that the US was ignoring allegations of torture, but this is of another level altogether.

This is about the US handing over detainees in the full knowledge that they were about to be tortured.

And, for once, Nick Clegg is to be applauded for stepping up to the plate.

The evidence emerged as the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said the allegations of killings, torture and abuse in Iraq were "extremely serious" and "needed to be looked at".

Clegg, speaking on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show, did not rule out an inquiry into the actions of British forces in Iraq, but said it was up to the US administration to answer for the actions of its forces. His comments contrasted with a statement from the Ministry of Defence today, which warned that the posting of classified US military logs on the WikiLeaks website could endanger the lives of British forces.

Clegg said: "We can bemoan how these leaks occurred, but I think the nature of the allegations made are extraordinarily serious. They are distressing to read about and they are very serious. I am assuming the US administration will want to provide its own answer. It's not for us to tell them how to do that."

Asked if there should be an inquiry into the role of British troops, he said: "I think anything that suggests that basic rules of war, conflict and engagement have been broken or that torture has been in any way condoned are extremely serious and need to be looked at.

"People will want to hear what the answer is to what are very, very serious allegations of a nature which I think everybody will find quite shocking."

Lambasting Wikileaks for what they have done rather misses the point. Most of us are less concerned about how this information got into the public domain than we are about whether or not what is detailed here is true.

If this is true then we are dealing with war crimes. It is long past time for the US and UK to seriously look into what was done in Iraq.

And, unlike President Obama, I think that should go all the way to the top, and that the US should look at just who at the to gave the orders for this immoral crap in the first place.

Within the huge leaked archive is contained a batch of secret field reports from the town of Samarra. They corroborate previous allegations that the US military turned over many prisoners to the Wolf Brigade, the feared 2nd battalion of the interior ministry's special commandos.

In Samarra, the series of log entries in 2004 and 2005 describe repeated raids by US infantry, who then handed their captives over to the Wolf Brigade for "further questioning". Typical entries read: "All 5 detainees were turned over to Ministry of Interior for further questioning" (from 29 November 2004) and "The detainee was then turned over to the 2nd Ministry of Interior Commando Battalion for further questioning" (30 November 2004).

I have no faith that Obama will not sweep this under the carpet as he has swept the rest of the Bush regime's crimes under the carpet, but we now have the British Deputy Prime Minister saying that an investigation is needed into this. That ought to count for something.

Click here for full article.